Second Chance Foods Doubles Down on CoolBots

Rescuing Food – Reducing Hunger – Raising Awareness

Second Chance Foods does exactly that: They rescue food from grocery stores, restaurant suppliers, home delivery services and local farms that would otherwise get thrown out and go to waste. They get new food donations every single day, distributing it all within 24 hours to local hunger relief organizations. This constant stream of food requires a lot of cold storage. Second Chance Food currently utilizes two CoolBots to rotate their food supply, and those coolers are rarely empty for longer than a couple of hours. 

Second Chance Foods also rents a commercial kitchen and cooks prepared meals with a lot of their rescued food. According to Martha Elder, the executive director of the nonprofit, Second Chance Foods has distributed approximately 20,000 meals this year, so far. These prepared meals are donated to local food pantries, who are then responsible for getting the food to the people. “We really focus on nutrition and making healthy meals more accessible,” tells Elder. “And since the only healthy food is food that is actually eaten, it’s got to taste good. We strive to make it like the food we serve to our guests in our own home.”

A majority of these prepared meals also require refrigeration. For example, Second Chance Foods sees a lot of produce. They make lots of guacamole and applesauce. Some crowd pleasers are chicken parm, big salads, stuffed cabbage casserole and roasted beets. Menu items are all seasonally based and determined by how many volunteers show up to cook, how much space they’ve got in their pressure cookers, etc. But the fundamental concept behind the meal prep is based on what they think people will enjoy eating.

Prior to becoming proud CoolBot owners, Second Chance Foods had rented commercial kitchens with fridge and freezer space in them, but it quickly became apparent that they needed more cold storage. They explored some options for expanding their cold space and noticed that one of the farms they rescued food from used a CoolBot at their farmstand. So they got to experience a CoolBot firsthand and hear the farm workers rave about how well it worked for them. Plus, “it was just so incredibly expensive for compressor fridge units,” says Elder. 

There was a small room in Second Chance Food’s kitchen that wasn’t being utilized, located along an outside wall. So they had the room insulated and acquired a donated A/C unit. Then they purchased their first CoolBot. It’s been up and running for about two years now and has needed “zero maintenance,” according to Elder. This unit is about 6×6 ft and was put together for less than $2K, which Elder says “has been an incredibly cost effective way to really increase [our] cold storage.” 

Eventually, that cooler space became inadequate, so Second Chance Food went to the Rotary Club of Southeast, NY for assistance. The rotary club bought Second Chance Food a 10 ft trailer, which one of the members then outfitted with insulation to convert it into a mobile cooler. He cut out a hole in the trailer for the A/C unit, and it’s even got its own generator. 

The mobile cooler took about 400 hours total to build, but that’s also due to the fact that their volunteer construction worker “is an absolute perfectionist,” according to Elder. (Plus, he did all the work mostly on his own!) Starting with a completely blank slate of a metal trailer, he built up the insulation all around from the floor to the walls. Then he enclosed the insulation and installed donated shelves. There are four total shelving units, and each one holds about five boxes. They can also utilize the floor space by placing palettes on the floor to stack boxes on. The CoolBot trailer build cost roughly $9K, including the generator.  

Because they rent their kitchen space, Second Chance Food wanted a mobile cooler option, for if and when they need to move — and someday, they might even haul the cooler trailer to various locations to distribute food. (Now, they just need a truck!) Their long-term goals include getting this cooler trailer mobilized, since they’re located in a very rural location with limited public transportation. Increased community access to all of their rescued food is paramount.

We’d love to change the whole way hunger relief is done, giving more dignity and nourishment to our community.” – Martha Elder

Now that Second Chance Foods has two CoolBots, one stationary and one (theoretically) mobile, they can rescue more food and also keep it fresh.“We’re all about recovering the most nutritious food possible, and often that food needs to stay cold,” Elder explains. “We’re also the distribution point for local food pantries who don’t have access to cold storage. We’ll hold on to the prepared food and volunteers from food pantries will come and pick it up to distribute it.”

Second Chance Food plays a crucial role in feeding their local community, and the pandemic certainly kept them busy. “Covid also had a huge impact on food insecurity,” Elder says. “There are many people living paycheck to paycheck. Even those who temporarily lost their employment, were going to food pantries.” And they’re already considering getting a third CoolBot to store even more rescued food, getting the ball rolling to fundraise for their next cooler. 

“We’re just so happy with all of our CoolBots,” Elder says. “The issue of food waste is a huge environmental issue. Reducing food waste is essential for reducing global warming. People assume food goes into a landfill and composts, but it doesn’t. It produces methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas. By rescuing food, we’re not only feeding people, we’re helping the planet. And it’s about public health, as well. Poor diets kill many Americans.”

“So we’re saving the planet, feeding people and improving public health with food that’s otherwise just thrown away.”

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